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:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.: -----=====Earth's Dreamlands=====----- (313)558-5024 {14.4} (313)558-5517 A BBS for text file junkies RPGNet GM File Archive Site .:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:. From LISTSERV@pucc.Princeton.EDU Thu Sep 24 15:38:01 1992 Received: from pucc.Princeton.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA26295 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Thu, 24 Sep 1992 15:37:55 -0400 Message-Id: <199209241937.AA26295@eff.org> Received: from PUCC.PRINCETON.EDU by pucc.Princeton.EDU (IBM VM SMTP V2R2) with BSMTP id 3727; Thu, 24 Sep 92 15:35:59 EDT Received: by PUCC (Mailer R2.09 ptf002) id 6492; Thu, 24 Sep 92 14:52:08 EDT Date: Thu, 24 Sep 1992 14:40:55 -0400 Sender: "Revised List Processor (1.7c)" From: WHITEJL@DUVM.BITNET To: RITA@EFF.ORG Subject: File "DARGONZ VOL05N02" being sent to you. Status: OR *--------------------------------- Cut here ----------------------------------* 1 / DDDDD ZZZZZZ // D D AAAA RRR GGGG OOOO NN N Z I NN N EEEE || D D A A R R G O O N N N Z I N N N E || Volume 5 -=========================================================+|) D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Issue 2 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 5, Issue 2 09/24/92 Cir 1192 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Sons of Gateway 5: Goren Jon Evans Janis 29 - Vibril 27, 1014 Pact IV Max Khaytsus Yuli 15, 1014 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Sons of Gateway, Part 5: Goren by Jon Evans (b.c.k.a. ) "Saren and Nehru be damned," cried Goren, as he dove through the snow towards the wood line of the forest. The riders were closing quickly, even with the snow to slow the horses, but his own feet weren't as light in the high drifts as he had hoped. "Finally, the suffering end you deserve," he said to no one. "Payback is a bitch, isn't it?" Bark splintered on the tree next to him, a quarrel burying its head into the wood. "Why in the name of Ol did I burn the bow?" Strangely, he answered himself: "Because it wasn't yours, usurper." In the woods, Goren knew the snow would be lighter. He had hunted here many times, in his youth as well as recently, and he knew the paths that would be hard to follow on a horse. There were times when he came hunting on his own, and he had missed the aelo with his first arrow. They aren't fierce animals, but when they're attacked, they know how to hurt the men that hunt them down. Another bolt, landing quietly and dangerously close in the snow, brought him out of these thoughts, and he hurried down a little used path towards a cabin his family had used for years. There would be weapons there, perhaps, and at least a place to defend himself from his attackers. He didn't know who these men were, or why they were chasing him down, and he didn't much care. All he cared about was staying alive. "Do you really think you deserve to live," he asked himself, "after you murdered your father in cold blood? Let the hand that serves the poison be cut off." Running through the woods, the horses losing ground slowly, he toppled over a mound of snow into a bank he hadn't remembered. The horses were too far behind to have seen him fall - he was safe, for the moment. He rested. "Haven't spent much time in the winter woods, have you?" Goren whirled to see another rider, wearing the same white armor of his followers. "Just because you're out of sight, doesn't mean we can't follow your trail." The man released his blade from its scabbard with the sharp, crisp scratch of steel on steel. Goren stood up, waist-deep in the snow covered gully, and turned to flee. Behind him stood three more riders, swords drawn and dismounted from their steeds, staring down at him from the bank of the pit. "Now you'll meet the suffering end you deserve," Goren said. The four were mildly amused, as the leader walked his horse closer to Winston. "I rather think you're wrong," the leader replied, pulling his blade back to swing. "No, wait! I didn't mean-" Blackness engulfed Goren as he landed in the cold, soft snow. "He burned the bow." Marcus stared silently, sadly, at the remains of a small fire someone had reported seeing under the dock at the south ford, two days past. Marcus had known who it was, and took his time investigating. The curved wood was charred beyond definite description, but Marcus knew no rotted plank would take that shape, and the blackened remains of six arrow heads were only just below the surface of the soot, when he scraped through it with his knife. "What idiocy has taken the boy? Bad enough I had to hit him... never had to take steps with Goren before... couldn't stop babbling... squirmin' mess, that boy is..." Marcus mounted his horse once more, noting the lack of tracks anywhere near the area. No one fords the Laraka in the winter, and the ripping wind covered well any traces Goren had left behind. Riding the rest of his nightly rounds, he thought he should have gone with Goren, but decided against it. "Who'd be left to take care of Kald's home, with Ne'on running the place? And besides, I'd probably have to kill the men following me, instead of just avoiding their opportunities. Ne'on needs a lesson in subtilty..." As the Castellan of Gateway trotted his horse away from the area, three dark figures crawled slowly over the ridge behind him, contrasting the white landscape with their black clothes and arms. They had been following him for the past day and a half. They had no idea that he had been keeping track of them, as well. Soft warmth, in the form of bear skins and female flesh, awoke Goren from his fevered haze. He had been sick with the Red Skull, his benefactors told him, and they were glad he was alive. Looking around him, he saw he was in a tent some twenty feet square, with about ten other men and women. He was also in chains, as were the others. "Where am I?" he asked of the woman looking down at him. He quickly thought of his clothes and checked to see if he was decent. He was; but not in the clothes with which he had left Gateway. As if sensing his thoughts, the woman - or girl, for she couldn't be older than 17 summers - blushed shyly, and began to answer, when she was interrupted by another voice. "Hell," it stated plainly, in a tone that was at once ancient and young, rough and gentle. Goren looked to see a woman of not more than five heads tall, with the eyes of an angel lined with more years than she had lived. "You can go, now, Vercona; the man appears to be well. Although I'd take it easy from now on, if I were you." This last was directed at Goren. "I'm not dead, and I can think of worse places to awaken than in the presence of beautiful women, so I think you might be mistaken." Goren looked around. The general populace didn't think the jest was very funny, and the woman wasn't smiling much, either. "Then perhaps you should stay here: women come and go every day, and the food isn't half bad. You have to pay dearly for it, though; or you will, as soon as you've been sold." With a cold stare, she added. "If you decide to live through the next two weeks, I'll be in the corner. Happy attitudes and light jokes aren't going to do you very much good." Goren decided he didn't like this woman. A white clothed figure, sitting tall in the saddle, rode his pale horse through the snow covered woods 100 leagues North West of Magnus. His mount's light, muffled hoofs echoed softly through the nearby trees causing small clouds of billowy white snow to fall gently to the cottony masses below. Pausing briefly, he reached down to his left boot, covered with the grey-white fur of winter wolves, and adjusted his stirrup. The howling wind passing through the trees blew open his light blue cloak, revealing his heavy suede protective vest beneath, and the short cropped blonde hair around the fair complexion and pale blue eyes common to most northerners. Pulling the cloak securely around his body, he huddled against the sharp wind biting through his too-thin clothing, and muttered a prayer to Stevene as he spurred his horse into a walk. "Stevene, keep her safe and whole, let her not feel the cold sting of winter, and may the Communers find more need for her in this life than myself." A light figure almost seemed to blend into the gentle snow of the plains as it emerged from the northern edge of the woods less than fifty leagues from Gateway Keep. "Fine," he said, turning from the exit of the tent and sitting down on a red silk pillow. The pillow was soft, but it did little to comfort him from the frustration at his failure, especially with everyone in the tent staring at him with the mixed feelings of pessimistic knowledge and disappointment. "Goren," the angelic voice sighed, and he felt a firm hand grasp his shoulder, "I've tried everything already. You know that. You are feeling panic, now, and you have to let it go." Rho looked to the opening of the tent. "It's not strong magic, but it's enough." "I hate magic," he muttered, looking around him at the other trapped souls. "Even more, I hate being confined!" He stood up again, and began walking toward the flaps. "I'm going to break this damn force if I have to spend the rest of my life doing it." Rho grabbed him and spun him around. "You may well do that. That field doesn't wear down. It's there. Now sit down, and calm down, or I'll knock you down." She was tired of this stubborn man who wouldn't listen. She was tired of his ranting and raving. She was tired of his childish tirades. She didn't understand how a man could seem so rational, and act so immature. And, most of all, she was tired of being locked up, too. His words had struck a chord in her, but she wasn't going to allow them to disturb her thinking. Goren was tired, too. This woman had been demanding since the moment he met her. Who did she think she was, treating him like this? He was the Keeper of Gateway. He was the nephew of a respected, if minor, House of Magnus. And, she was a woman. "Get out of my way," he said, teeth clenched. "Sit down," she said coolly. He reached to move her. There was a blur of movement, the blunt sound of flesh hitting flesh, a gasp of air, and Goren flew several feet backward, landing not too softly on a pile of silk and pillows. Goren lay doubled over, his breath short and infrequent. "Don't come to me again unless you're in the mood to take orders." Hanlar moved his large bulk back into the trees, a narrow beam of energy burning a thin branch off the tree beside him. The trees were safe, he thought, just out of their distance. His commanding officer looked at him dazedly from behind the large boulder he was using for cover. They all looked at him, asking how they were expected to succeed where a man his size had failed. The cold winter snow mixed in with the dirt they were forced to sleep in, covering them all with a muddy complexion. They had quarreled on the way here, the poor travelling conditions and their bad temperaments mixing to aggravate their situation. Some of them had broken bones from fights, cuts where the fights had gotten out of control. Two of them were asked to leave the group. Ne'on would have to deal with them, if they lived to make it back. "Why didn't you keep going?" The commander looked desperate. He was only 21 years old, and most of his troops had more experience than he. Experience in what, Hanlar wondered. Most of these "troops", as Ne'on called his Black Arm, were cut-throats and thieves, muggers, men who hadn't worked an honest day in their lives, unless it was to stake out a prospective target. Their commanding officer was a man known in the Keep and the surrounding area. It had been a politically wise choice for Ne'on to put him in charge. It had been a tactically stupid move. He didn't want the position. He had joined the Arm for the sake of making some extra money for his family. Ne'on knew this, and asked if he would like to make even more. Needing it, he jumped at the chance. He hadn't known what he was doing. "Keep goin'?" Hanlar looked at his captain in amazement. "Are ye crazed, boy? Them wizards jist took out all me men, an' me near wi' 'em. 'Ow would you like to be chargin' out there, eh?" "If I weren't the commanding officer, and in charge of bringing this damn precious stone back, I would be out there!" Damn this corporal, thought sergeant Howen, he shouldn't dare speak to me that way. As soon as this is over, I will discipline him. "Well, then, mister commandin' officer," Hanlar's face wrinkled with the sarcasm, "maybe you'd best be findin' a way tha' what's left of this troop kin git along into this devil's hole wi' out yuir help, eh?" "I'm working on it, corporal." The sergeant stared back at the cave entrance, wondering how he could fight the cold, his men, and the magicians holding Ne'on's stone, and still stay alive in the process. "I'm working on it." Marcus glanced behind him slowly, letting the men following him know he was turing, and giving them time to hide themselves. In the time it took for them to get out of his field of vision - one had jumped behind the rain barrel, he noted by the barrel's slight movement, and the other had stepped into the River Snake's Den - he was able to duck down the alley to the side before they could see where he had gone. It shouldn't take them long to figure it out, he thought, glancing at the snow on the ground. Looking down the alley, he noticed the back door to the fabric store, and made his way towards it. He wasn't sure if these men were still Ne'on's guard, or some of the ruffians the winter weather, and Ne'on's new policies, had attracted to Gateway. Before he could get to the door, he heard their muffled footfalls behind him. He turned, and saw the two men following him. They weren't dressed like men of the Arm, being clad mostly in winter hides and light cloaks. They paused, noting the exposed position in which both parties stood. "You're either thinking you should run away now," Marcus said to them, unclipping his sword belt, "while you're still out of the dungeons..." Marcus drew his sword slowly, letting it's scrape against the scabbard be heard quite plainly by the two men. "..or that it's time to draw your weapons, and face this keep's Castellan with steel." Pulling the cloak off his shoulders, he twirled it around his left forearm and hand, resulting in an effective defensive weapon against two opponents. "Me... I've already made my decision." The two men paused, looking at each other doubtfully. They're judging each other's value, Marcus thought. After two seconds, they turned and ran. The Castellan let them go. "They're getting brave," he mused. "Sooner or later, if those were Ne'on's men, they're going to have to do something." The tent was wrapped in a silence broken only by the sounds of deep slumber, and a body navigating across the pillows and sleeping forms. He crept closer in the darkness, making little noise and disturbing no one despite the sparse light cast by the hanging oil lamp. He didn't need to see where she lay sleeping; he knew as if by instinct. As he drew closer to her, he reached his hand to her, and gently touched her. "Rho," he whispered, not intending to wake her if she was truly asleep. "What is it, Goren," she replied. Her voice was clear and smooth - she had been awake for some time. "I, uh..." He wasn't expecting her to be awake. It would have been much easier if she was actually asleep. He knew he had intended to say something to her, on his way over, but now he fumbled for the words. He had a respect for her which he felt for few people. She had been able to knock him across the room. And, of course, she was beautiful. "I just wanted... I was stubborn... What I'm trying to say-" "Goren, forget it." Rho turned to her left side, resting her head up on her left hand. She looked at him seriously, gauging him, determining his value at what she had planned. She decided. "Can you fight? I mean, not hand to hand, but with weapons?" "Can't everyone?" "No, Goren, not everyone can. And I don't mean just carry them and know how to hold them - any mother's son can do that. I mean, if it comes down to it, could I count on your sword arm?" Goren smiled. "No." Rho gave him a dissapointed look, but he stopped her before she could reply. "You'd get your head chopped off, if you had to rely on my sword arm. But, give me a bow and I can show you some magic." He tried not to sound too proud of his next statement, but he wanted to impress her. "I won the Keep's Silver Arrow the last five years in a row. Of course, Marcus and my father weren't competing, but..." At the thought of his father, he became quiet and sober. For the first time in over a fortnight, he remembered his father laying on the ground, twisted in pain. Rho's voice brought him back. "Good," she said. "Gather all the clothing you can, we're leaving here tonight." Throwing off the blankets she was resting under, she stood up fully clothed, and removed a bundle from beneath her pillows. Goren ran for his own possessions, waking several people in the process as he stumbled over their sleeping forms. A flickering yellow light began emanating from outside the tent near Rho's bed. It grew brighter, turned orange, and darkened. Suddenly, the tent material peeled away under the heat of the red-orange flames. The inhabitants of the tent were in chaos, shouting their surprise and fear, as a white-clad warrior entered the tent. "Come on!" Rho called, grabbing the bundle and running through the opening. Goren ran close behind, clasping a bundle of his own close to his chest. Sorya waited in the gathered silence, her brothers and sisters of the order huddling about the rocky entrance to their habitat. Her light green robe, signifying her status as Leaf, stood out among the browns and greys - the Branches and Barks - of the rest of the group. The cold winter wind did not reach into the cave, whose enchanted opening permitted only gentle breezes to pass through. Sorya lowered her blonde-capped head and rubbed the short bristles of her hair with her left hand... for luck, she smiled. Glancing up, her keen brown eyes sensed something in the distance. Her jaw set. "Prepare," Sorya's soft, raspy voice called out. "No, wait..." Haren, one of the Barks, called. "I don't think it's an offensive attack. Not a direct one..." Haren was the sensitive of the group. He could feel things of this nature, sometimes, but Sorya wanted to be sure. Any mistake, and the Crystal might be forfeit. No one was going to take it while she was acting leader of the Nar-Enthruen. "Explain," she commanded. "It's movement, that's all. Not necessarily an attack, but... part of one." "Where to?" He was nervous, she noted. So was she. These men, from out of no where, had staged an attack on the Guild. Normal men, without even a magician to help them discover the illusion cast over the cave's entrance. Another effect of the Crystal, she noted. She wondered if it was losing its power. "I can't say... around... I don't know." He dropped his head, shamefully, wishing he could have told the group. It would have been a great deal of help. "Look!" In front of the cave, about thirty yards away, stood a large man, looking battered and tired from the siege. The leader of the last group that had attacked the cave, Sorya noted. As he stepped forward, he drew his sword, intending to attack. Easily defeated, she thought. "Karin," she called, and the Bark stepped out of the cave to meet him. The worst aspect of the Crystal, Sorya thought, was that no magic within fifty feet of it was functional, unless it was a powerful conglomeration of magi, and that only happened during a Draining. Karin stepped out of the cave, and greeted her combatant with a nod. She expected to have little time to cast her spell before he swung his great sword in her direction - her first spell would have to be a protective one. She called on the magic, feeling it enter her, shaping its form about her. Sharp pain, in the form of an arrow, entered her side. A warmth spread about her left hip, and she could feel wetness running down her legs. The energy she was summoning began slipping away, she could feel the spell dissipating. Concentrate, damnit, she thought, focusing her mind once again. A new warmth, pleasurable, gathered at her side, and she glanced over to see Haren sitting next to her, his hands glowing a light blue as they touched her wound, the arrow easing out slowly and painlessly. Another shaft flew through the air, striking the ground next to her. She knew she had to finish the spell, but there were so many distractions. Haren, run back inside,she thought. He was risking his life to save hers; there was no way he could have covered himself with a protective spell before he began healing her. Another idea occurred to her, and she began expanding the spell to include him. It would take only a moment longer... Hanlar's long sword came down on her shoulder blade with a note of finality, splitting her torso half way. Karin cried faintly, and slumped onto the magus sitting next to her. Haren looked up, surprised, and shouted something incomprehensible to Hanlar, and Hanlar was sent sprawling backward, a gash opening in his chest. Two more arrows were fired, and these hit their mark. Haren slumped forward over the body of his dead friend. "Gods, it worked!" Sergeant Howen ran forward, his troops staring at him in wonder. "Corporal, get up here, we've got a man down, and I'm not losing any more men. McCullen! Braddock! Hold your positions! If another one of those robed freaks comes out of that cave, I want it looking like my grandmother's pin cushion!" The sudden victory where defeat had seemed so imminent struck the men dumb, but they followed the new strength they saw in their leader. They didn't like him, they had thought he was weak, but he showed them that a good plan could go a long way. As one of the men began bandaging Hanlar, Hanlar looked up at his commander, twisted his craggy face into an exaggerated wink of his left eye, and slumped back down. "Will he be alright, corporal?" Howen was worried. Out of all the men he had the dubious pleasure to lead, this man was his favorite. He wasn't particularly nice to the sergeant, but he treated him fairly, and gave him a chance when most of the troops would not have. "'E'll be fine, comman'er. Jist a bit o' a scrape... 'e's 'ad worse, I can tell you that." The corporal continued wrapping the bandage around Hanlar's newly exposed chest, the blood already beginning to coagulate. "Well, just make sure that wound is kept clean. And keep him warm, I'm not losing anyone for any reason." Howen turned to the rest of his gathered troop. "The rest of you, form ranks, two rows, bows in the back, swords up front. We're going into that cave and bring out that bloody stone." "Sorya, they're coming! How are we going to stop them?" The young Bark, new to magic itself let alone battle, cried desperately to Sorya. They all look desperate, she thought. "They killed Karin and Haren, Sorya. How can we stop their arrows if we can't even cast any spells? There's only twelve of us left!" Twelve of us and twenty of them, Sorya thought, looking at the massed robes around her. Twelve hysterical, panicking beginners, against twenty trained men. She thought about the cave, their advantages, what few weapons they had, and the men who were coming towards the entrance. She began to feel the uneasy turning in her stomach which precluded her own panic, and had to force herself not to lose control. If she lost command of herself, the entire group would be cut down like lambs for the slaughter. Then she thought of a chance. "Twelve will be enough," she announced to the robed figures around her. "They can't fire their arrows into the illusion covering the cave, and the few magical traps on the path should slow them down a bit. Falen, take two men and go to the chamber. I want you to bring the Crystal up here." Her words echoed off the walls, taking time to sink into the minds of the magi around her. Falen rose, picked two Barks nearest him, and left. The others still looked at her, wondering. They didn't understand. "You all know the Crystal can be used to drain latent ability from... incompetent... students. Well, there's another function of the Crystal that isn't discussed very often-" A scream filled the cavern as a man crumbled to the ground outside the cave. About twenty feet from the entrance, the center man in the front line grasped at where his left leg used to be, a small, fiery explosion burning it completely from his hip. The advancing men halted, looking about them carefully. Someone hesitantly stepped up to help the now unconscious soldier whose wound - mercifully - had cauterized with the injury. A few others began to back away, until a yell from their commanding officer stopped them. Sorya wished that he had been the one to suffer the injury - the entire assault might have been halted right there. "As I was saying, there is another function." Falen and the two Barks arrived with the large stone, its mass being carried by the three of them between two large, wooden poles. The purple, oblong stone pulsed slightly, slowly, in the presence of the magi. "That function is to drain life." There was a subtle change in the expressions of the massed magicians; the change from confused wonder to fearful awe. One of them spoke the thoughts of all the young, inexperienced magi, "We can't manage the Crystal.. it's too powerful... there's not many of us here..." The time they had left was drawing short. The men had begun advancing, again, this time prodding the ground in front of them with spears, branches, anything they could find to trigger the traps without being caught in them. They would be entering the cave in another minute, and then the slaughter would begin. Sorya realized there was a second time constraint: the Crystal was pulsing slightly faster, a little brighter, it's dweomer causing it to drink the plentiful magic potential gathered in the room so close to it. The incantation must begin immediately. "I tell you, twelve will be enough! Am I not a Leaf of the Nar- Enthruen? Do I not know of what I speak? Or would you wait for the soldiers to cut you to pieces? Look outside, and tell me we are still not enough to use the Crystal." The magi glanced about themselves, saw the first man coming near to entering the cave, and quickly formed a circle around the Crystal. Sorya stepped into her place, and began the spell. "Are we sure this is the exact entrance?" The corporal next to Howen looked at him with the question. The entrance was difficult to detect, at best, with the illusion cast over the cave. It was only Ne'on's instructions that had allowed them to find the cave in the first place. The closer you got to it, somehow, the more defined the illusion appeared. "I'm sure, damnit, now let's get in there. We don't know what else they might have planned for us, and we're running low on man power." He yelled loudly to his men to pick up their spirits, "Let's go, men! Give these demon wizards a piece of steel to take with them to Risseer!" As they passed through the illusion, they could see the cave entirely, including the circle of magi around a huge, purple stone. They charged, fearing the possible attack by the conclave, but no wizards turned to meet their steel. Suddenly, a man screamed out in pain, and dropped to the ground. Then, another man fell, and another, writhing in agony for a moment, and laying still. "Magic!" cried one of the men. And the charge stopped yet again. The bowmen worked their way forward and nocked their arrows. "Aim, and fire at will," Howen commanded, and the arrows flew out, striking their targets. A feeling of sickness came over Howen; his insides started turning, and a pain crawled up his left arm, working towards his heart. "Get the green-robed one," he gasped, clutching at his chest. Several other men also stopped their attack, clutching at their chests. One fell to the ground, dead. More arrows flew through the air, some striking their targets, most missing completely. There were only six more standing, damnit, Howen thought. And thirteen of us. The odds are still in our favor. Blackness closed in around his vision, his heart rate jumping faster. The green robe called something out, and another man collapsed behind him. Still, he fought the desire to give up, to let the life spill out of him; he had something to live for, a job to finish, a family to support. Another magus felt the bite of an arrow and the men of the Arm closed with their enemy. Swords were drawn, steel bit into cloth, and screams reached Howen's ears as he felt Celine's tranquil pull. Another cry, the sound of rusted metal hitting stone, feet moving around him. Someone gasped for air. Air began making its way into his own lungs. His heart beat slowly, steadily. His vision cleared, and when he focussed, he saw several silhouettes leaning over him. "Is he dead?" one asked. Then he heard a familiar voice - a voice he was growing to love - the voice of Hanlar. "He's lookin' you square in the face, lad, and ye think he's dead?" Hands reached out to grasp him, and pull him up, and he saw the green robed magus laying in a pool of blood by the stone, Hanlar's own sword sticking out of the woman's chest like a monument. Nehru forgive us, he thought, we were fighting women. "We'll take some time 'ere, lads, to rest. We'll not be goin' any- where, for a scant bit 'o time." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Pact, part IV by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a. ) The only instruction in the letter that Ilona Milnor followed was to come alone and that was only because she had plenty of confidence in herself. She ignored the lines about not carrying weapons or light. She needed those, especially in the middle of the night around the docks, outside the protective city wall. She received her instructions to come here just after she reported for duty at sunset. She had no idea who the note was from, but it was delivered by a young blond woman, perhaps in her early twenties. She was obviously upper class and very polite. "Who is this from?" Ilona asked, re-folding the message. "I can't say," the woman answered, as if she did not know herself. "And who are you?" The woman shrugged. "I'm just a messenger." "That's not how I do business," Ilona warned her. "Then you'll have to adjust." "I could have you locked up," the lieutenant threatened. She had no patience for games. "Aren't we past the time when they killed the bearer of bad news?" the woman continued in her calm voice. "I told you, it came into my hands with intent of being passed into yours. Take it and follow the instructions." With those words she turned and walked out of the guard house. Ilona could have had her arrested, but the woman was right. The days of killing the messenger were long gone. Besides, she was obviously a member of the local mob and Ilona did not want to be the one to cast the first stone. It seemed she was on her way to being one of the organization's members and the means to that end seemed more important. If she were to succeed in infiltrating the mob, a lot more than one criminal would be her prize. Ilona shone the light of the lantern down the length of the docks, watching for movement and examining the rebuilding of the piers. Large portions of the dock were covered with fresh wood, while other sections were completely torn down. Most remained in the same bad condition that the war had left them in. There were two large merchant ships that had come in over the last few days to sell their wares in town, braving their way past the enemy fleet and the pirates. She shuddered to think how many others failed to make it through. The ocean floor must have been littered with greedy merchants wanting to make a profit on the war. Since most of the pier markers were lost in the fighting and the subsequent fires, Ilona had to count the piers before locating the proper one. Like the rest, it appeared to have been damaged in the fighting and was patched up in some places. She shone the lantern down the pier, then at the small clipper ship docked at it. By some miracle, some of the ships in Dargon's harbor managed to survive. Many were only lightly damaged and repair and raising work had started the same day the Beinison fleet moved on. "I told you no lights!" a harsh male voice floated down from above and Ilona shone her light up to the deck of the ship. Liriss, the crime lord of Dargon stood on deck, dressed in a black cloak, shielding his eyes from the light. "Come up here." Ilona made her way to the boarding plank and walked up on deck. Liriss was alone as far as she could tell. "Kill the light," he asked in a quiet voice. "Please." Ilona did so. She never imagined he could be polite. "Please, sit down," Liriss told her, standing before her nervously. He was not armed and there did not seem to be a weapon near by. "Why am I here?" Ilona asked. "Your first assignment." She sat on the second step of the ladder leading to the upper deck. "What do you need?" "Your help. You're one of the very few I can trust." "Me?" She was ready for anything but that. "Yes, you. Not even any of my lieutenants. Not one of the three. You see, I was framed. I never gave the order to have your Captain killed and I'm already being blamed..." He did not often let his speech trail, but he was obviously deep in thought. "What?" Ilona stood up. She was even worse prepared to hear that. "I never gave the order," Liriss repeated. "Someone else did and used my name. I suspect that one of my aides did this." "But the man said you ordered it. I was there!" She bit her lip, realizing she had given vital information away. In the official story, the assassin was killed long before she ever arrived at the castle. "And that note from you..." she hurried to mask her slip. "Note? What note?" "The note you sent last night, with the gem." "I never sent you a gem," Liriss protested. "I wouldn't dare leave evidence like that around. And I sent no note. What did it say? I must see it!" "It said `You're well on your way,' and was signed by you." "You must believe me," Liriss insisted. "I didn't send you anything and I did not order Koren's death." "Kesrin told Kalen that Koren's death was a part of the deal," Ilona said. She intended to corner the rat. "For Darklen, not for you! I would have told you up front! I can't afford the risk so soon after trying to make this deal with Darklen. Besides, Koren was too well guarded for me to send my men on a suicide mission. I have too few people now as it is. I would wait until he was home, alone, before acting." "You expect me to believe that?" "Yes! You must!" Liriss took a deep breath. "I did NOT have him killed. You have access to Darklen and that's all I need for now. I've learned to be patient rising to where I am. And believe me that I sent no gem. If I wanted to pay you off, it would have been done with Rand gold, just like the Duke pays." "Liriss, you're a thief, a liar, and a murderer. Why should I believe you?" "You have to." He shifted uncomfortably. "You must believe me. You're an outsider to my organization. You're one of the very few I can trust. Help me and I'll help you." "How?" she sighed. The song was not going to change. "You must prove that someone is trying to set me up. And you must find that person. I know that he or she is one of my people. If you find out who it is, I will gladly give them up to you, along with any evidence you will need to put them away." "All right," Ilona sighed, "but you must tell me everything you know." * * * It has been a whole month since Aimee Taishent moved to the Duke's castle to live with her father, Jerid, who worked for the Duke. The Duke and all his soldiers were gone, even Captain Bartol, who always told wonderful stories, and her father was in charge of the whole castle. But he was also very busy and could not spend any time with her. Once Aimee snuck away and went to her grandfather's house in the new part of the city, beyond the old city's walls. There were other kids where her grandfather lived and he always talked about magic and showed her interesting things. But then two castle guards came looking for her and took her home. Her father was furious. He said he did not want her going outside the castle alone any more and told her stories about bad Beinisons and that they were still out in the new city, stealing little children and that is why so many of her friends were gone. She cried and cried, until he took her into the city to show her that the Beinisons had gone far away, but told her not to go alone anywhere anyway. And then the guards would not let her out of the castle by herself. Her father bought her some new toys that she could play with, but all alone she could not keep her interest in the games. Aimee had prowled the entire castle by now. She had been in all the corridors and halls and in many of the rooms. She checked the kitchen and the stables and the gardens. She had even been in all three spires of the keep and up on the wall that went around the castle. All the buildings on the other side looked small and the people even smaller. But a month was more than enough time to see all of that and Aimee was once again getting bored. She had been sulking around the castle all morning when she found a large wooden door that had always been locked in the past, slightly ajar. She peeked through the crack and saw a long hallway with flickering torches and stairs at the other end. Aimee wondered if she should get her puppy, Karl, from the kitchen, where he was begging and stealing scraps from the cook, but decided that he would bark and make too much noise and instead pulled the heavy door open and went inside. Behind the door the corridor smelled like the ditch out by the docks and remembering the loud and rough sailors she had seen, Aimee thought about going back, but at the same time she desperately wanted to see what was at the bottom of the stairs, behind the door that has been locked for the last month. The stairs were narrow and dark because the row of torches ended in the corridor above, but light shone in from the bottom of the stairs. Aimee carefully made her way down to where there was more light. The walls here looked grayer and were much older, dusty and cracked and the ceiling had arches and was rounded, unlike the ceilings in the castle. There were many doors and cross passages everywhere Aimee looked, but the torches marked a single path, twisting and turning in the maze. Before Aimee could go too far, she heard running footsteps behind her and hid in a dark corridor. A moment later a castle guard, carrying something in his hands, ran by, his sword loudly bouncing up and down on his belt. As soon as he was out of sight, Aimee turned and ran back up the stairs. To her dismay, the heavy oak door was locked. * * * Rish hid his hands in the folds of his robe, glad that he managed to get all three letters off by different messengers. He had spent the entire morning out at the market, taking his time, making sure no one knew what he was doing. He was charged an exorbitant price for two of the messages, due to their destination and the course of the war, but he knew the people taking them were reliable and the messages would arrive in less than a month. The third message was not going very far and Rish expected to get the most use out of it. He made his way down one of the keep's main corridors, trying not to look as satisfied as he felt. "Good morning, Lord Chronicler," a maid greeted him. "Good morning," Rish smiled back. He felt as if the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders as the letters left his hands and felt more personable than usual as a result. "You have not seen Sir Taishent's young daughter, by chance?" "Of course not," Rish muttered. The child was always lost. "The girl has been missing all morning." "I..." Rish began when an armored man ran into the hall. "Hildy!" "Excuse me, Lord Chronicler," the maid hurried towards the soldier. Rish proceeded out of the hall, thinking about the Lieutenant's young daughter. She was a curious child, always underfoot. Once she saw him writing and asked for a bottle of ink, which he gave her. By the following day she had stained half the castle. He heard back from Jerid Taishent about that. Heard so much in fact, that he was not going to give Aimee anything ever again. To this day, almost a full month later, the servants still found ink stains here and there and had to spend hours scrubbing them away. And the ink bottle was still missing, the girl claiming she had lost it. He hoped she had not gotten into any trouble or found the ink bottles he stashed away in the the library behind the old books on the far shelves. For now, if he were to see her, he would bring her to someone's attention, but he would not go searching for her on his own. He had plenty of things to do and being as busy as he was with his research into Captain Koren's death, he had neglected to maintain the detailed records he usually made. * * * "Shut up!" Kalen shouted at the youth. "I don't want to hear it!" The young man fell silent. "Now," Kalen went on to one of the guards, "you throw him in a cell and keep him there and you find that merchant and ask what's missing. If it matches, bring him here to talk to me. If not, tell him to go home and wait. Now get out of here, all of you!" "But I didn't do anything!" the boy wailed again as the guard turned him to lead him away. "Shut up!" Kalen shouted again. "If I hear your voice one more time, you're not getting out of that cell until you're forty!" The teen fell silent with a whimper and the guard led him away to the back of the guard house. "Rough day?" Jerid asked from the doorway. "Yeah," Kalen sighed, turning, "but if that brat was just a year older, I'd backhand him so hard... Just look at me, threatening violence on kids..." "If he stole something, the least he deserves is a good whipping," Jerid noted. "You know me. I'd just as soon let their parents thrash them. Come on, we can talk in my office now." Jerid nodded. "You know what this is about?" "I have a good idea. Some of your men dropped by this morning." They walked up the stairs and into Captain Koren's office, shutting the door so they would not be disturbed. Jerid paused at the door for a moment, looking about the room. It has been months since he stood here talking with Adrunian Koren. The normally spotless office was a mess with papers and boxes and a pair of crates of merchandise in the corner. "What happened?" Kalen asked. Jerid had to force himself away from looking at the mess around the room. "Aimee's missing. I saw her at breakfast, but she didn't show up for lunch and her mutt has spent the whole morning in the kitchen. The staff has been searching for her all day. No one saw her leave the castle. My father hasn't seen her. No one." "No one..?" Jerid shook his head. "The cook, the castellan, the physician. She hadn't even gone to the stables today." "Do you think she was kidnapped?" "What else is there to think?" Jerid said bitterly, "but why would someone go to all this trouble and how would they ever get her out of the castle?" "Would Liriss try to use her to blackmail you?" "What for? I'm not the one who deals with the grief he causes." "I don't know," Kalen said. "It's just a thought." "I'd rather someone kidnapped her than anything else," Jerid admitted. "If they took her, she'll be okay. I'm worried about the alternatives." "Do you need more people to look?" Kalen asked. He had none to spare, but he would gladly give some up for a task such as this. "I just want you and your people to watch out for her. She probably just wandered off on her own like she always does, but I want to be sure. I'm amazed the guards didn't see her leave the castle." "I'll let Ilona and Caisy know," Kalen promised, "and we'll let you know if we find anything. Aimee will be fine." * * * Unable to open the dungeon door, Aimee followed the lit corridor to where the guard disappeared. She reasoned that it was only a guard and she should not have gotten scared just because it was her first time down here. Her father would probably yell at her for coming here, but at least the guard would let her out. She followed the lit torches to another staircase and down again, deeper into the dungeon. The walls became darker and the passages narrower. The shadows from the torch light cast frightening shapes on the walls. Aimee lost her courage many times, but each time she would remind herself that there are no such things as monsters, just like her father told her when tucking her in after nightmares. Shadows were just dark spots made by things standing in front of the light. She made it very far into the dungeon before she could hear voices. "The chiurgeon's due soon," a man said somewhere up ahead and Aimee carefully crept forward. "Should I hide the mead?" a second voice laughed. "After begging the cook for some?" yet a third male voice queried. Aimee crawled up to a doorway and peered inside. In the room sat three men and a woman. Two wore blue jackets that identified them as city guards. The other two wore the Duke's crest, making them a part of the castle guard. They all sat around an old wooden table, playing cards. Every so often one or another would take a sip from their goblet. "You know, Elizabeth is really pesky," the blond man with his back to Aimee said. "She always complains that we're doing something wrong. At least old Griswald let us be." "He sold out, Tesky," the man on his right said. This one seemed to be in charge. He was older and wore sergeant insignia and spoke with a deep, strong voice. "And now we've got the war because of him," the last man said. "It wasn't just him," the sergeant corrected. "It was all the greedy people willing to sell out to Beinison." They finished the hand and moved something about on the table. "I'll hide this," Tesky got a jug and got up. Aimee shrank back as he turned around, but he did not notice her. "Let's go check on the Great One, Altura," the sergeant said to the woman. "Arellano, see that the torches are still burning." They all got up and left in different directions. Aimee hid in an alcove as Arellano passed by, followed by the man who took the jug. Sergeant Guralnik and Altura went into an adjoining chamber. Aimee held her breath until the two men that passed her were out of sight, then snuck into the room where the four guards had sat. The cards were still lying on the table, with some coins and mugs and two daggers. In the corner across from the second door lay sleeping bags, packs, weapon belts and some food. Feeling hungry, Aimee picked up a piece of dried meat, a large slice of cheese and a skin of water. She retreated into the corridor without checking what was in the next room and hid the meal up the corridor, then waited for the guards to pass back, nibbling on the cheese that she had stolen. Aimee had no idea what the guards were doing here or why the Duke's physician was coming to visit them or who the `Great One' was. All this became an interesting mystery she felt she needed to solve. She picked contentedly at the cheese, waiting for her opportunity to arise. "...be fine," voices sounded in the corridor again. "Two or three days and we'll be out of here. I doubt there's a reason to be hiding for weeks. It's not like we killed the Duke or anything." Aimee hid in the shadows of her room as the two men passed by. She wondered what they were talking about. Hiding? Killing? "Well, I want to see my wife before I become a part of this place," the other man complained. "I'm already beginning to forget what she looks like." They entered the lit room and Aimee snuck out into the corridor, still holding the cheese, and listened in at the door. "We'll need to replace the torches at the bottom of the stairs in an hour or so," Arellano reported. "Get 'em when Elizabeth leaves," the sergeant said. A chair creaked. Footsteps. "What happened here?" someone complained. "Where?" Altura asked. More footsteps. Aimee peeked in. "Damn rats!" the man who carried the jug examined the pack that held the food. "Put it up on the chair, Tesky," the sergeant told him. "We can live with these rats. It's the ones up above that I worry about." Arellano dug into his pack and pulled out a slingshot. "Just wait 'till I see one!" Aimee shrank back from the door in fear, realizing that the slingshot was really meant for her. * * * "My Lord?" a man bowed before Kesrin. "I have news for you." "What is it?" Kesrin asked without turning to look. People had been having news for him all morning long and he now wanted some time to think about the unrest in the ranks of the mob. "A letter, Sir. It was carried by that merchant who refused to pay for protection. The boys and I got him outside of the town wall just after lunch. He was leaving a day early." "Let me see it," Kesrin put out his hand. The scroll was handed to him. "Did you break the seal?" "No, my Lord, of course not! It was broken by the merchant." Kesrin's eyes narrowed and the brigand took a fearful step back. "You have read it?" "Uh... Yes, my Lord. I read it to see if it was important." Kesrin unrolled the parchment and slowly read it, not dismissing the man. "I didn't tell anyone else, Sir. I was the only one sorting the loot." Lines appeared in Kesrin's brow as he read on, but he did not respond to the man. "And, of course, I thought you might want to bring this to Lord Liriss' attention yourself, Sir," the brigand went on. "You did well, Misgen," Kesrin said. "Remember not to discuss this with anyone. Come, we'll show this to Liriss together." They walked out the door and down the corridor leading to the stairs side by side. As they approached the stairs, Kesrin drew his dagger and sank it into Misgen's back. "Are you sure you're the only one who saw the letter?" he demanded. "Yes," the brigand gasped. "I was the only one." "My Lord won't appreciate others knowing his grief," Kesrin said, twisting the blade and pulling it out. He let the man fall down the stairs with a second thrust and continued on his way up. * * * Aimee recognized the sound of the physician's soft sandals long before the woman appeared in the hallway. Aimee hid while Elizabeth passed by, then carefully followed her down the corridor towards the room where the guards were staying. Maybe now that the physician had come down, she would hear why the guards were playing cards in the dungeon and who the `Great One' was. Waiting for the physician to show, Aimee ate some of the food she had stolen and thought about what she might tell her father about where she had been. She probably should have told the guards that she got locked in by accident and asked to be let out instead of sneaking around, and spying on them. It was an honest mistake on her part after all, but having heard the guards talking, Aimee's curiosity grew and she wondered about just who was in the next room and why he would not come out. Now that the physician was here, she could just wait and see and then sneak out before the others finished talking and simply tell her father that she was out on the castle wall and forgot to come back to eat lunch. Elizabeth entered the room where the guards were sitting and greetings were exchanged, then she asked how `he' is and one of the men said `he' was the same as they had left him. "Some doctor you are," Elizabeth frowned and continued into the next room. "Told you," Tesky said to the sergeant, who smiled joyfully. "At least she means well." Arellano picked up his slingshot off the table and followed the physician. "Better watch her, lest the rats get her." "Just shoot her once," Tesky followed him in. A moment later Sergeant Guralnik and Altura went in after them. Aimee waited a while, making sure none of them were coming back, then entered the room and went to the doorway through which all five disappeared. She could hear muffled talking as she reached the door, then saw the backs of the people before her. They were all looking at something, but she could not tell what. A moment later one of the guards moved and Aimee realized that lying on a bed was a large man. The man's hand slipped off the cot and swung limply down to the floor. Aimee's eyes grew wide and she bit her lip. The man was not moving! He was dead! Then the physician also stepped away from the bed, revealing the man's face and Aimee instantly recognized Captain Koren, the Captain of the Dargon Town Guard. She heard the servants talking the past few days about his murder and now, having finally seen his body, she knew that these guards and the doctor were involved. Trying to be as quiet as possible, Aimee backed out of the room and into one of the unlit corridors of the underground maze, hoping no one realized that she was there and what she had seen. * * * "My Lord?" Kesrin entered Liriss' office almost without knocking. "I said I didn't want to be disturbed!" Liriss snapped. "My Lord, this information is of great importance," Kesrin forced himself to remain pleasant, always his most difficult task when dealing with his boss. He had no idea that Liriss was troubled to start with, but he was not sorry to interrupt. "Let me have it," Liriss ordered sharply. Kesrin delivered the rolled up parchment into the crime lord's grasp, then stepped back expectantly. "Now leave." "My Lord?" "Leave and close the door behind you!" "Of course, my Lord," Kesrin smiled uneasily and backed out of the room. If Liriss was in a bad mood now, it was bound to get worse as soon as he read the letter and violent mood swings often caused violent reactions. As he stepped out into the hall, Kesrin made hasty plans to find something to do in the city, to avoid being underfoot. He shut the door firmly behind himself and went. As the door closed, Liriss examined the roll Kesrin had given him. What could be so important that he would have to be disturbed? Usually Kesrin was bright enough not to disobey a direct order. He unrolled the scroll and read. My Dear Captain Bartol, I write you this letter in fear for my life and the future of the Duchy of Dargon and our Lord Clifton's rule. Three days ago Captain Adrunian Koren was found dead in his room, poisoned by an assassin. Action was taken immediately to find out who sent his killer, but as time went on, I began to notice severe inconsistencies in the stories told and the actions taken. Please consider the following factors that have forced me to write you this dispatch and plea for immediate assistance. When I personally had a chance to examine the room where the Captain was resting, I found that the supposed struggle that took place between the guard and the assassin could not possibly have left the room in the fine condition in which I found it. More surprisingly, having locked myself in the room, I had learned that no one outside the door was able to hear me or see the light of the candle that I had lit. Based on this, I refuse to believe that a guard making rounds found the assassin in the room by accident. You see, the only keys were held by your aide, Lieutenant Jerid Taishent, the Physician, Elizabeth of the Pass, and the castle Castellan Molinar. A guard would be unable to enter this room, locked from the inside, by any legitimate means. Even more astonishingly yet, the guard that apprehended the assassin was reassigned the following day and made unavailable to my inquires. In addition, while the body of the assassin has been returned to his family, the body of Captain Koren has effectively disappeared. The final factor in my decision to write to you was information delivered to my attention by Tara n'ha Sansela, the Captain's niece. In the possession of Lieutenant Ilona Milnor, of the Town Guard, she had found a valuable gem stone together with a note from the crime lord of the city's underground, thanking her for her work and making a promise of things yet to come. In the past three days I have also noticed a newly developed comradery between Town Guard Lieutenants Ilona Milnor and Kalen Darklen and your own aide, Lieutenant Jerid Taishent. The three of them have been instrumental in blocking information and dragging out the facts of the investigation. I believe that their involvement with the assassination goes much further than it first appears and sincerely believe the Ducal seat to be in jeopardy. Once again, I beg you to return to the capital to relieve the developing problems. < Signed, > Your humble servant, Rish Vogel, Dargon archivist, chronicler and historian "Damn them!" Liriss slammed his fist on the table, flinging the scroll across the room. The silver wine goblet that stood on his desk tipped over, spilling the rich red wine on the table. "The bitch tricked me!" He shoved his chair back, furious. Then, after a moment, a calm smile spread across his face. "Just as well. It always works out in the end." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 ** ****** **** ** ** ** **** ** ** ** **** **** ** ** ** ***** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ***** ** ** *** **** ** Quanta is the electronically distributed journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy. As such, each issue contains fiction by amateur authors as well as articles, reviews etc... Quanta is published in two formats, Ascii and PostScript* (for PostScript compatible laser-printers). Submissions should be sent to quanta@andrew.cmu.edu. Requests to be added to the distribution list should be sent to one of the following depending on which version of the magazine you'd like to receive. quanta+requests-postscript@andrew.cmu.edu quanta+requests-ascii@andrew.cmu.edu or quanta+requests-postscript@andrew.BITNET quanta+requests-ascii@andrew.BITNET Send mail only- no interactive messages or files please. Note that if you subscribe with a letter sent over BITNET, you will have the magazine sent to you as a file over BITNET, whereas if you subscribe with a letter sent over the Internet, the magazine will be sent to you by mail. Note that all issues are available from the anonymous FTP server fed.expres.cs.cmu.edu (128.2.209.58). If you can access this server and would therefore only want to be notified when a new issues has been released, please specify this in your request. Quanta now reaches an international audience of over 1000 subscribers. It is produced bi-monthly by Daniel Appelquist (da1n+@andrew.cmu.edu). * PostScript is a registered trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ (C) Copyright September, 1992, DargonZine, Editor Dafydd . All rights revert to the authors. These stories may not be reproduced or redistributed (save in the case of reproducing the whole 'zine for further distribution) without the express permission of the author involved.

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